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Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 7:57:07 AM
Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 7:58:09 AM
by patrick johnston
BRASILIA (Reuters) - The flicks and tricks returned along with the goals but no amount of Neymar magic can hide the defensive flaws that are hampering Brazil's bid for a sixth World Cup.
The Barcelona forward was centre stage as he revelled against the porous Cameroon backline to grab two goals in a 4-1 win on Monday that put the hosts through to a last-16 clash with Chile.
His back-heels, deft touches and crowd-pleasing antics in his 70 minute man-of-the-match display had a feverish home support at the Brasilia national stadium on their feet and in full voice.
They had come to see a victory delivered with style, having been denied that by a misfiring forward line and stout defensive effort from Mexico in the previous Group A goalless stalemate that had raised queries about their tournament favourite status.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari sent out the same side that fought back to beat Croatia 3-1 in their opener with a gameplan of overwhelming the already eliminated Africans.
Centre backs Thiago Silva and David Luiz and holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo were the only ones protecting goalkeeper Julio Cesar for long periods as the other seven Brazilian players bombed forward in search for goals.
Even Luiz Gustavo abandoned his station in the 17th minute to pop up on the left wing and set up Neymar's opener but the entertaining gung-ho display had its flaws against a side who had only shown fight amongst themselves in two opening defeats.
Cameroon grew in confidence as they routinely found space around the Brazilian penalty area and had long threatened an equaliser before Joel Matip was left free in the six-yard box to score in the 26th minute.
The goal came after Allan Nyom had once again escaped the attentions of marauding full back Dani Alves, with Benjamin Moukandjo enjoying similar space in behind Marcelo down the left in the first half for the underdogs.
A more composed attacking lineup might have made more of the opportunities the Cameroon side created. Brazil, though, did not have to wonder about what-ifs.
In Neymar they have a confident forward delivering under the heavy weight of a nation's expectation and he was unwilling to pass up any gift the opposition served up.
After a poor defensive clearance, Marcelo sent him through to put the hosts back in front with his fourth in three matches and the swagger and crowd noise returned before halftime.
Defender David Luiz, another who loves to burst forward, provided a cross from the left for Fred to head home a third goal but still Brazil seemed intent on keeping the game alive.
Scolari had introduced Fernandinho for the again disappointing Paulinho at the interval and Dani Alves was more cautious in the second period but the chances flowed for the Africans as Brazilian passes were misplaced.
Fernandinho did impress and linked play well before the box-to-box midfielder found himself at the end of another attacking move in the Cameroon penalty area to complete the scoring in the closing stages.
The goal added gloss and sent the fans away happy but questions inevitably centred on the frail backline.
"We had a small problem in the first half when Oscar joined the attack, Oscar and Hulk should have been (dropping back to) look for the ball," Scolari said, adding the problems were fixed at halftime.
"I don't have one little drop of fear about the defence, they are spectacular, naturally they can be beaten like any defences."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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